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An Interview with Tracy DiPietro, Author of the Friends Series

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T.M. DiPietro lives a beautiful life in Alabama.

She is a retired Master Teaching Artist, published writer, photographer, and former owner of DiPietro Design Group (ASID member). She worked as a professional artist throughout New England and New York and her murals are displayed in numerous homes and commercial buildings throughout New England. She has been featured on radio and TV and newspapers more than sixty times.

DiPietro has taught and directed numerous public art projects for educational, municipal, and state organizations, and in 1999 was awarded title of Master Teaching Artist for the State of Connecticut.

In addition to her creative pursuits, DiPietro took an active role in arts leadership and advocacy, developing educational programs, fundraising, and uniting community leaders in the non-profit and educational sectors. She served on the Board of Directors of the Meriden Arts Council, the ACCA, and was Director of the Arts and Crafts Association of Meriden, CT. In 2000, she received a commendation from the City of Meriden for Arts Leadership.

She is also a professional copyeditor.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

When I was a child, I was an avid reader. I read a book a day, almost every day. I loved to read. I read Oscar Wilde, Homer, Robert Louis Stevenson, E. B. White, Hans Christian Anderson, and, of course, classic English literature, such as Charles Dickens, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien.

I read frontier history, Greek mythology, fairy tales (the rather dark versions, such as the original Brothers Grimm), mysteries such as Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys; I even read encyclopaedias! There was Herman Melville’s Moby Dick; Jack London’s White Fang and Call of the Wild; Watership Down by Richard Adams; and many, many others.

A number of the books I read I could not put down. They were well written, and although I did not always understand them, they stirred my imagination and educated and entertained me.

One day, while I was at the library waiting for my tween to finish her tutoring, I began to peruse the young adult books—and what I found was shocking (I speed-read, so I was able to look over several books in just a few hours). The books were loaded with horror, some had graphic romance, and evil characters were depicted as heroes! Not to mention much of the writing was just bad. Book after book left me disappointed or appalled, and I wondered what happened to stories with substance. Books that teach lessons on integrity, character, dealing with and overcoming hardship, or those that convey historic events in emotionally moving ways. What happened to those such books?

I am sure there are some out there, and we have found a couple since, but the truth is, out of the thirty or forty books I looked over that day, there were none. It was all junk food for the brain. I discussed this with my friend Joann, also an avid reader, and she encouraged me to write a book for young adults. I then read an article about the need for books to address issues such as human trafficking, and that was it…the Friends series was born.

Our teens deal with so many issues today: school shootings, pornography, drugs, human trafficking and sexual predators, peer pressure, bullying, abuse and suicide, the loss of friends, or death of family. Some deal with poverty, others with too much privilege.

Most of these problems are not new, but a few are, and adults may not even be aware of the things their kids are struggling with, accessing, or being exposed to. Screen addiction, porn addiction, suicide, kidnapping, school shootings—these are only a small portion of what they face today.

This series seeks to follow a group of families through their hardships; some of the topics are very difficult to write about, let alone read, and parents may want to read the books first to decide if they want their children to read them.

With a few exceptions, the characters are fictional, but their situations are real for thousands of children and teens today, and while there is nothing graphic or X-rated in these pages, the readers will encounter a variety of situations, words, and definitions they may not already have been exposed to. The actors are from a diverse set of backgrounds…from liberal California to the conservative South, from homeschoolers to public and private school students, from wealthy families to struggling families. Each character struggles through a different set of circumstances, some seemingly experiencing only victory, while others grapple with problem after problem.

The goal of this book series is to encourage people, especially our young adults; to help them see the world through the eyes of others; to see evil for evil and good for good; to understand the suffering other people may be going through; and to value the benefits of community, family, and especially of friends.

Hopefully this will be the book your children can’t put down…or, at the very least, will make them want to set aside their screens and just read!

What inspired you to start writing this book?

My friends, my child, and the numerous issues related to human trafficking (my oldest daughter was almost abducted).

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I am an artist, photographer, and teacher, and I have won awards for my poetry and numerous leadership awards, and I was a journalist for many years.

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

I am a big Sherlock Holmes fan. I am also a huge nature/science lover and read many books on this subject. My favourite authors are Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens, and Oscar Wilde.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

This illustrated book is for young adults; it follows a family from California. The husband, Lee, is a pilot who disappeared, and the mother of the two main characters, Laney and Morgan, struggles to cope with all the events. You will just have to read it—don’t let me spoil it for you!

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